Here’s our wrap up for the week.

Eastern Line shutdown

Following on from the news last week that Kiwirail would be slowing down the rail network to a maximum of 40km/h for six months while they replace worn rail. Yesterday they announced another step and that they would be shutting down the Eastern Line for two weeks from Monday.

“We are accelerating our work programme to repair and replace the 100 kilometres of rail across the wider network.

“Closing the track for an extended period like this minimises overall disruption to commuters and corridor neighbours, as it allows far greater productivity for our teams.

“Work done across a 14-day closure would take more than 100 days if done only piecemeal at night and over weekends, as we are doing currently. While this stoppage will enable us to make significant progress, there will be further work required before we can return this section to full line speed.

“We are currently working with AT to develop the programme, both for completing the necessary work on the Eastern Line and carrying out the work across the rest of the network. That is likely to involve further stoppages similar to this one.

“The right access to the track will allow us to substantially complete the work in about six months, and in a way that enables a progressive return to normal line speeds.

Shutting down the line is a major step and will have a big impact on users – assuming we come out of level 3 next week. I said earlier this week I would be supportive of a shutdown like this if it meant we could get back to normal sooner but it seems this is needed just for Kiwirail to achieve the 6-month timeframe they revealed last week. Presumably this also means they knew last week that this level of intervention would be required and therefore it was clearly disingenuous of them not to have said this would be needed too.

Of course as they also mention, we can likely expect similar shutdowns on the other lines too. I think the public deserve to know just how much work is really required and also what measures are being put in place to prevent a repeat of this in just a few years time.

City Rail Link TBM on the way

The Tunnel Boring Machine that will dig the tunnels for the City Rail Link has been completed and is on the way.

New Zealand’s largest transport infrastructure project is celebrating a significant milestone – Auckland’s City Rail Link (CRL) has formally accepted ownership of its big Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) after extensive factory tests in China.

“The successful factory assessment tests and the handover of the TBM to the Link Alliance is a very clear and strong indication that the CRL project can meet critical milestones in a Covid-19 world,” says Dr Sean Sweeney, Chief Executive of City Rail Link Ltd.

The tests were conducted on the fully constructed TBM by the German manufacturer, Herrenknecht, at its factory at Guangzhou in southern China.

“The TBM successfully underwent more than 500 tests to make sure everything works as it should. There is now great excitement that we are ready for the next step – to bring the TBM to Auckland,” says Francois Dudouit, Project Director for CRL’s Link Alliance.

Rigorous checks tested the TBM’s three big jobs underground: excavating the tunnels, transporting tonnes of excavated spoil to the surface, and installing the thousands of concrete panels that will line the tunnels.

A few facts about it from CRL.

  • The TBM has a cutting head has a diameter of 7.15m, about half the size of the TBM used at Waterview. But at the CRL one is longer at 130m compared to about 97m for Waterview. This one weighs about 910 tonnes. Interestingly the Waterview TBM was made in the same factory
  • It costs about $13.5 million
  • It will arrive in October and start tunnelling from Mt Eden in April 2021.
  • It will take about nine months to build each of the two 1.6km tunnels, moving at a maximum of about 32 metres per day.
  • After the first tunnel it will be dismantled and returned to Mt Eden to do the second tunnel – which is expected to start in March 2022.
  • Up to 1,500 tonnes of spoil will be excavated each day which they say will go to disused quarries.

Leaking like a sieve

A report into how information about light rail leaked from Waka Kotahi NZTA last year couldn’t find the source but found the agency leaks like a sieve.

There is a sieve-like culture at the NZ Transport Agency, says the head of an inquiry, which has failed to identify the leaker of light rail documents.

Investigating lawyer Mike Heron said in his 28-page report that “it was expressed to me many times, and often with regret, that NZTA has a culture of leaking information”.


Despite this confidence in each other, interviewees thought the agency was leaky and “generally put this down to a cultural dynamic whereby highly skilled and passionate people would, on occasion, take it upon themselves to disclose sensitive information in circumstances where they considered that NZTA was not performing adequately or serving the public interest appropriately”.

The board and management could address this by ensuring people could express their views and be heard, Heron said.

From what I’ve seen over the years there seems to be a few cultural issues at play when it comes to information.

  • In my opinion there’s a lot of stuff that goes on inside the agency that should see the light of day more than it does. There seems to be a culture of releasing as little as possible unless the agency absolutely has too with it often only getting to the public following an Official Information Act Request – this isn’t unique to the NZTA though. It would be good, at the very least, if they proactively published all reports and memos at the same time as any public announcements – even if some parts of those were redacted.
  • When leaking that does occur, it often seems to be more about furthering personal ambitions, preferences and projects. For example, over the last few years there has seemed to be a significant amount leaking, or at least just guidance, towards journalists and some politicians in a bid to put pressure on the government to return the agencies focus towards funding some of the large motorway projects.

The light rail leak is a bit different to above and does seem to have been about highlighting the poor outcomes that were being pushed by the NZ Superfund and their Canadian partners.

The opportunity cost of Park & Ride

A good tweet from Matt Prasad highlighted the opportunity cost of Park & Ride.

A good question. From 

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  1. …On Light Rail:

    Seems like Labour might be prepared to buy out the design IP of the Superfund proposal. Good in the sense that they might be thinking about delivering it themselves, bad in the sense that they’re still focused on something so expensive to get to the airport that they’re forsaking an option that would probably give them Gold Coast Light Rail all over Auckland for the same money.

    1. Just insane they are still pushing the light metro option. Maybe build it once we have the Northern Busway converted to any type of rail, North West light rail, Eastern Busway fully completed, Howick to Airport Busway done then we can start gold plating some PT options, but we don’t even have the basics in place. Madness

      1. Nothing mad about getting it right the first time. Madness would be spending billions and ending up with something slower than buses.

        1. The original at-grade LRT would not have been slower than buses because it would have had signal priority and unlike Melbourne would not interact with traffic due to its raised plinth. Its accessibility was its main attraction, helping relieve the CBD of the current bus congestion whilst stimulating urban development at stop locations.

        2. In theory it wouldn’t interact with traffic but if you think a small concrete kerb is going to keep out Auckland drivers, I’ve got a bridge for sale.

        3. Madness is spending gazillions of dollars on a gold-plated solution for one single line when we don’t even have half a strategic-level network yet. Let’s complete the ATAP network by whatever means are most immediately feasible, and THEN start to think about how we might enhance it. I think that the proponents of this option clearly don’t use the Auckland “network” and are negligently unaware of the difficulties of getting across town. If we’re serious about getting people off the roads and onto PT, we have to remove the excuse the “it doesn’t go where I want it to go” and build the strategic links on routes like New Lynn-Onehunga, Henderson-Westgate-Constellation, Pakuranga-Botany-Manukau etc to join together the radial routes and create an ACTUAL strategic network that fosters mobility around the entire region.

          Parts of these strategic links may be light rail, some may be busways, some may be buses running on 24/7 bus lanes with intersection priority and signal pre-emption. But moving to light metro effectively nixes development of the rest of the network through the sheer volume of precious capital that it will suck up.

          Time to stop thinking piecemeal about Auckland PT and think holistically. Including not getting sucked into debating heavy rail vs light rail vs light metro vs rapid bus or whatever ad infinitum. That’s a sterile debate and only deflects attention away from the gaping void that is the uncompleted part of the ATAP strategic network.

  2. I just wonder how many 100s or 1000s of km of lines need to be replaced over NZ. The repairs would have to be done at night or over a few days and all taking years to restrict damage to the economy

      1. Each TBM is engineered for the specific project they’re going to be used on. So you can’t order a TBM without making a lot of decisions:
        – What is going to run in the tunnel? (this influences diameter and maximum grade)
        – Single tunnel or twin tunnels? (obviously influences diameter)
        – What is the alignment of the tunnel(s)? (this tells you where you need to do geotechnical investigations)
        – What are the ground conditions along the alignment of the tunnel? (this is critical to the TBM design)

        The Link Alliance won’t have specified their TBM to handle operating below the seabed of the Waitemata Harbour so it’s not simply a matter of ordering an identical one.

    1. “It costs about $13.5 million”: So why not buy 2 of them? Pocket change for the CRL isn’t it, get it done in half the time.

      1. Because the time taken to bore the tunnels isn’t the critical thing for the project. It’s building of the stations. So boring the tunnels twice as fast won’t make any difference to the overall completion time of the project therefore why spend the money if you don’t have to.

  3. That park n ride could also be an apartment tower with shops at ground level.

    Buying the IP suggests there has been a whole lot of work done. I’d like to see it and I don’t see what the goal is in keeping the public in the dark. We now have an election where 3 very different Mangere rail schemes are being proposed:
    National = Heavy rail per 2012 Len Brown
    Labour = Metro per Canada
    Greens = Streetcars per AT
    There’s no detail in a political soundbite. Nationals heavy rail and Greens streetcars have at least got a lot of design information that was made public. If Labour is backing the Metro then shows us why.

    1. My thoughts on the park and ride was that it should be four- or five-storey development at least, roughly quadrupling that revenue.

      1. I think the Unitary Plan zones it “Town Centre Zone”, allowing 27m height. Thats 9-10 storey. As its adjacent to the station and main road, if a large enough site was developed allowing appropriate set backs, I’d prefer it was built much larger, thinking of what would be appropriate in 50-100 years time making best use of the land, and not building something that risks being knocked down before the end of its useful life.

    2. National = nothing started until at least 2030
      Labour = Metro per Canada
      Greens = Light rail per AT

      Fixed that for you.

  4. Another lost term for that job.

    Still, the bypass around Hamilton and Huntly will be done. And we’ll be able to get on with the Tauranga bypass as well.

    The new Minister needs to merge MoT and NZTA. The boundaries are crippling Wellington decision-making. The leaks were just one small part of it.

    1. The bypass around Hamilton is a very boring road and I keep wondering is this any quicker as it seems to be going in the wrong direction. Really annoying as are the huge roundabouts.

        1. Yes the Hamilton Bypass is still under construction and has no roundabouts. Royce must be thinking of the Hamilton ring road, which has plenty of roundabouts.

  5. In previous shutdowns to allow work at Otahuhu Station trains ran between Britomart and Sylvia Park while the rail replacement bus ran from Manukau to Panmure. Sylvia Park is a difficult station for the rail replacement buses to access so the buses just didn’t. The trains ran back from Sylvia Park to Penrose on the same line they came up on.
    I expect there will be a rail shuttle running between Manukau and Otahuhu for the duration of the eastern line shutdown. It would be useful if they could run to Sylvia Park instead and it would only require one track. Presumably Kiwirail will be trying to avoid working under a live overhead. I wonder if there is an isolating point to allow the power to be shut off on the section between the Strand and Panmure so work can carry on safely.
    Also how soon will the third platform at Otahuhu be finished. It will give train running more flexibility when other sections of track need to be worked on.

      1. Why would expect a rail shuttle when the notice is total closure from Britomart to Otahuhu? It’s buses only for at least the next two weeks.

    1. The 32 bus already runs from Otahuhu to Sylvia park and back, frequencey is very poor though, 20 minuites at a minimum

  6. It appears the contractual difficulties around Transmission Gully have been resolved, which is good.

    Of note is “NZTA has also agreed to an extra $45.5m for a different road surface on some sections. This “deep lift” pavement is more resilient to poor weather during construction meaning the work to lay it can continue during marginal conditions, bringing forward the estimated opening date by four months than would otherwise be possible.”

    This is good news because deep lift asphalt (aka structural asphalt) is really the best solution for these new 4 lane roads that are expected to get a lot of heavy vehicle traffic. It is a more expensive pavement type but it is much lower risk, easy to repair if it does have issues and has better ride quality.

    Over the last decade NZTA, in an effort to cut costs, has been using cheaper but higher risk options. On the Christchurch motorways they’ve used foam bitumen stabilisation, which is great in theory but has a poor track record in practice. On the newer sections of the Waikato Expressway they’ve used hi-lab which has no track record as its an experiment, which is a big risk to take. On other roads they’ve gone with a standard unbound granular pavement cause its cheapest and this has lead to some high profile failures (Kapiti Expressway, Taupiri section of the Waikato Expressway).

      1. Ask no questions, they’ll tell you no lies. But the business case was poor even at the original costings.

    1. The notion that reducing planning regulation would increase housing supply and put downwards pressure on house prices is not a neoliberal concept. The idea that artificially constraining the supply of a good pushes up its price (all else being equal) is one of the most basic principles of economics. That blog doesn’t make a convincing argument otherwise but it does touch on a lot of the other factors making the housing market dysfunctional.

      When discussing how to make houses more affordable people often get hung up searching for a silver bullet solution. There is no silver bullet. There are only a bunch of different changes that would each produce an incremental improvement. One such change is reducing planning regulations that inhibit density. The reason so many people argue in favour of it is that its low hanging fruit; it can be done quickly and basically for free. Lots of NZ economists have been arguing for it for years but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one claim that it’s a silver bullet (though the media often over-simplify their public commentary).

      1. What IS a neo-liberal construct is taking the notion to extremes.
        That severely reducing planning regulation is effectively a silver bullet to enabling housing supply and addressing affordability. This is the position taken by many economists in both the NZ and international setting. And it is the rhetoric that underpins the NPS-UD.
        It’s one part of the puzzle, but not the central factor as most neo-liberal economists suggest.
        As this economist suggests, the only way you are really going to address affordability is through the state building a lot more housing, like Singapore.
        It’s good to see him taking Edward Glaeser to task too. A guy I have felt is overrated, for a long time.

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